The Blurb On The Back:
Jack loves his grandad’s stories about the Jade Kingdom, a world of heroes, beasts and adventures.
But when Grandad gives him a magic coin, Jack discovers the kingdom is real … and he has to save it from terrible danger.
Can Jack and his new friend Princess Li stop the deadly Dragon King?
TIGER WARRIOR: ATTACK OF THE DRAGON KING was released in the United Kingdom on 8th July 2021. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
Jack is an ordinary boy, living an ordinary life that mainly revolves around school and playing video games. Jack’s dad died when he was only one year old and his grandad (who he calls Yeye) decided to leave his home in China to live with Jack and his mum.
Recently though Yeye has been looking more and more unwell and Jack is worried about him. Yeye also seems to know that things aren’t right because he lets Jack in on a secret: Jack is the Tiger Warrior and it’s his destiny to battle evil in the Jade Kingdom! He gives Jack a magical jade coin marked around the edges with the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The coin summons the animals, all of whom have their own mystical powers, and also lets him travel to and from the Jade Kingdom.
As the Tiger Warrior, it’s Jack’s job to help the Jade Emperor battle the demons that terrorise the Kingdom and he’ll have to learn how to harness each of the animals’ abilities in order to do so. For his first trip though, Yeye suggests he just introduce himself to the Jade Emperor and get a feel for the place. The only problem is that when Jack gets there, he discovers that the Jade Emperor has been imprisoned by the evil Dragon King, who is intent on letting his dragons take over the Kingdom and then head for Jack’s world.
Jack’s only ally is Princess Li, the Jade Emperor’s daughter who has magical powers of her own. But even with her help the Dragon King is a powerful adversary and Jack will need the power of the Tiger Warrior in order to defeat him. If he only knew how to do it …
M. Chan’s fantasy novel for readers aged 6+ (the first in a series) makes good use of the Chinese zodiac and mythology, has dynamic illustrations by Alan Brown and plenty of action to keep young readers but the story is a little choppy and predictable (which young readers won’t necessarily realise but more experienced readers will). It’s a perfectly okay read and one that young martial arts fans will enjoy but I can’t say I’d rush to read on.
I liked the relationship between Jack and Yeye, who’s mischievous and a bit of a prankster and keeps Jack on his toes. In fact, I would have liked to see a bit more of it here because the set up is a bit perfunctory with Yeye mainly used to provide some exposition on the magic coin and how the powers of the zodiac animals work and then disappears for the rest of the book. This isn’t unusual given the age group that the book’s aimed at where there is a big focus on getting to the action quickly, but I would have still liked a couple more pages of build up to set the scene and the background.
Chan does a good job of giving the zodiac animals some personality – I particularly liked telepathic goat and pig, who wants to eat all the time. There will clearly be a lot of fun in the series as Jack learns what each animal’s power is and how he accesses it and young readers will enjoy the action scenes as he gets to grips with some of the powers available to him and takes on the Dragon King’s dragons.
This brings me to the Dragon King himself, who is a bit of a bog standard boo hiss untrustworthy villain. Again, I’d have liked a bit more backstory as to why he wants power over the Jade Kingdom than what we get but that will no doubt be expanded out over the series. Similarly, I hope that there’s more of the relationship between the Dragon King and Jade Emperor who’s little more than a name on the page in this book and I look forward to learning more about Jack’s father, about whom there is a revelation towards the end of the book.
Princess Li is an interesting foil for Jack. Being an adult and a bit jaded (no pun intended), I half-wished that she wasn’t a princess but was instead a normal “commoner” like Jack because I’m a bit over the emphasis on royalty in children’s fiction. Saying that, she’s spirited and impetuous and I liked how Chan inverts the normal trope of having the boy be the one to race in and take action without thinking things through first. Jack himself is a bit of a stock character – I would have liked more detail on him and who he is rather than pitching him straight into the action. Again, this can be developed going forward in the series and younger readers will relate to his confusion and determination to do the right thing.
This is a pacy read with Chan handling the fight scenes well so readers have no problem following what’s happening. Alan Brown’s illustrations are also very dynamic with a slightly cartoonish/video game quality that adds to the story (not least because of Jack’s interest in video games).
I know that I sound as if I am down on this book so I should hold my hands up and say that some of my issues with the book tie in with how stories are structured for the age group rather than Chan’s writing. I actually think it’s a perfectly fine read, just not one that hit my buttons enough for me to rush to read the next in the series. If you have a keen young reader who’s into the Chinese zodiac or martial arts though then this would be a great book for them to check out.